If someone told me that I could only have one hobby for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t take one moment to think about it.
I’d pick reading.
There have been periods in my life where I’ve read very little (a.k.a., high school when I could only think about friends and boys) and others where I’ve practically lived in books.
When I talk about reading here at Blacksburg Belle, I usually refer to non-fiction books like the latest business book I’ve fallen for, but today’s post is a bit different.
So many of you loved the blog post I published on my list of non-fiction must reads for creative entrepreneurs that I decided to write a post on fiction.
This list is about the stories that have impacted me the most–the ones that have crawled inside of me and stayed for years, having such influence that I don’t think I would be the same person without them.
I don’t know about you, but the GREAT stories I’ve consumed over the years have stuck to me, have transported me to new places, and allowed me to meet all kinds of people of all ages and ethnicities. Every time I read a book like that, I can’t help but change just a bit. It adds to who I am, what I enjoy or things I want to try or see.
A few of these books aren’t the most well written novels of all time, but I read them at the exact right time in my life. I’m thankful for those books and the authors who entertained me and helped me through tough milestones or celebrations (yep…I’m a nerd who rewards myself with a good book).
I hope you find a few you’d like to read and more than anything, I hope you’re inspired, entertained and positively changed through at least one book on this list.
The way I’ve listed the books are within categories and then in the order I read them (so they aren’t listed from most impactful to least impactful or anything like that). Also, I read a lot of the young adult books after many of the adult books.
I remember reading and re-reading this book many times. It made me fall head over heels in love with fiction. I loved reading before Matilda. I would force my parents to read four to five books to me every night starting at the age of two, but Matilda was that first book I remember reading by myself and getting that magical feeling of being engrossed in a story so much that I forgot where I was and what was going on around me.
One of my favorite memories of my childhood was ‘yard saling’ with my parents. I would lie down in the back of my parents’ station wagon and read while they drove from yard sale to yard sale.
I would stay in the car but my mom would come and get me if they had any children’s books, play teacher supplies (like a kid-sized chalkboard) or real teacher supplies (like workbooks, textbooks or planners). During these Saturday mornings, I’d read for hours as well as find new books and I was always on the lookout for Nancy Drew books. I knew which ones I had and which ones I didn’t and if I came across a new one, it was mine.
Like many pre-teens, I read this book because I was curious. I remember being fascinated by sex ed in fifth grade and I hadn’t gotten my period yet. I wanted to know what to expect and this seemed like a good source to get some details. It was. I completely missed the point the author was making about Margaret’s relationship with God, but it definitely makes it to the list of novels that most impacted my life.
I’m including this novel in children’s books because I read it in the sixth grade. At that point in time, I had stopped reading on a daily basis. For some reason, I didn’t procrastinate with reading this novel (like I was starting to do with all the assigned reading)–maybe because it looked huge to me. I read at the recommended rate which had us start and finish within a couple months. It made me laugh and cry and want to read every day again. Thank you Richard Adams for writing a book that made me see the value in reading again.
This series helped me bond with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. With one of the releases, we all went to buy the book at midnight when it was being released. As we stood in line, anticipating the magical story, we became closer and we’ve bonded over books ever since. I don’t think we’ve had one Christmas where we haven’t given each other a stack of books for presents.
Not only did it help me bond with my husband’s family, but it opened my eyes to fantasy and magical stories. That was one of the first fantasy series or books I’d ever read and it showed me how someone (a.k.a., J.K. Rowling) thinking outside of the box can create something that transforms peoples’ lives.
Young Adult Books
I’ve written an entire blog post about my love for this series, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the main reason these books impacted my life was because I was struggling with the choices I had made for my education and career.
I was depressed and Twilight kinda fell into my lap. Besides my then fiancé (now husband), it was one of the only things making me completely happy.
Reading these books compelled me to start writing fiction on a regular basis which turned the miserable hours in the morning before work into something I looked forward to every day. For that, I will always be thankful.
This is another series of books that inspired me to write fiction. When I put down Divergent, I ordered a bunch of used books off of Amazon about writing fiction. That’s also when I started waking up around 5am to get in a couple hours of writing before I had to leave for work.
When I read Divergent, I loved reading about dystopian worlds because they transported me to a world where everything was “different” without being fantastical. They were a lot of fun.
Warner. Enough said.
Okay, maybe you want a bit more…but seriously, Warner. If you’ve read this series, you know what I mean. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
I find Tahereh’s writing addictive and beautiful. The first book in this series is not written like your average book, but if you can get past it and you enjoy young adult series with love triangles, pick it up. (You can buy me a green tea frappuccino with coconut milk later to thank me.)
I loved the books, but more than that, I was inspired by this author. She’s hilarious, smart, unapologetically weird and married to another best-selling author. I want to be her when I grow up. (How about a combination of Mayi Carles and Tahereh Mafi…God…are you listening? It’s me, April and I want to be Mayi and Tahereh when I grow up.)
This series gets a lot of criticism like the Twilight series from those who only like literary fiction. It’s kinda like The Bachelor combined with The Hunger Games, and it’s hella entertaining. I read each of the books in the series in one or two days. As someone who enjoys writing fiction if I had to pick between beautiful writing or creating something this entertaining, I’d pick entertaining. I would want to write books that people stayed up all night to finish.
Also, this series has a special place in my heart because the writer lives where I live in Blacksburg, Virginia. I’ve seen her speak in person at our local Barnes and Noble and she connects so well to the pre-teens and teenage girls who obsess over her books. It was a wonderful thing to watch. An author who makes teens thrilled to read is a gift to this world.
Before I became chronically ill, I had no trouble sleeping. I could fall asleep anywhere, in any position within a couple minutes. I could sleep: on the subway, in class with my head on my desk, within one-minute of a car ride, standing up against a wall, in the movie theater while bombs are exploding on screen. Then I got sick and started struggling with insomnia.
This is the first book I can remember keeping me company as I lay in bed next to my husband unable to sleep one wink. I read it from start to finish.
It’s a really cute young adult contemporary novel about a girl who gets sent to a school in Paris against her will for her senior year of high school. Girl meets boy in the lovely backdrop of Paris. I’m in.
I’m not sure if I LOVED this book or if I love it because it got me through that tough night of pain and anxiety. Either way, I appreciate it.
New Adult Books
This series is just straight up romance—and steamy romance at that. But, one of the reasons it made this list is because it follows a family and their friends and you get so invested in seeing them all happy. It’s the best new adult romance series I’ve ever read.
I’m not the type of reader who likes to read a series of books back to back to back. I like to split it up, read a little romance and then a little dystopian and then a thriller and then back to the series for book two. Not with this series. I read this series back to back, not wanting to read anything else.
When I read this series, my husband and I had been together for 11 years and without going R-rated, we’re still hot for each other (have you seen my husband lately…hubba hubba). With that being said (and keeping things G-rated), these books amped things up in the bedroom and whatever adds a bit of spice after 10 years is a good thing in my opinion.
I’m not a huge re-reader. There are so many books in this world that I want to read that I feel a bit guilty spending time rereading books. This novel is an exception. I first read it in college and I stayed up all night to finish it. I sobbed from 4am to 6am which made my eyes so puffy that I could barely see the next day.
This book transported me out of my 12×15 foot room that I lived in my senior year of college and into a relationship and places I couldn’t get enough of. My copy is stained, torn and water-damaged but I love it. Those stains and tears remind me of all the times I read it.
This isn’t Jodi’s most popular book, but it’s the one that made me adore her novels. One of the things that Jodi does so well with her writing is that you really feel like you understand her characters, including people you never thought you could relate to. It’s an amazing thing to be able to read a novel and feel like you completely understand someone who is very different from you.
Since reading Handle with Care, I always get that itch of excitement when I start a new book by Jodi. I know that I’m going to learn about other people and issues that I want to be aware of and understand.
When I read this book, I was dealing with some mild depression due to my health issues and the limitations I dealt with because of it. While I see the issues of placing value on able-bodied people and saying that someone’s life isn’t as valuable if they aren’t able-bodied, this is a novel, just one story of how one person might deal with becoming paralyzed from the neck down.
And, this book literally changed my life. It made me much more grateful for the everyday. It helped me make more of an effort with things like exercise, eating healthy and doing everything I could to make my life more enjoyable by decreasing my pain and suffering. It made me realize that I should try to make every day count and stop waiting for “someday” to do the things I want to do.
I’m not sure if any other novel has done as much for me (in changing my mindset) as this one did.
This book did not make this list because the story itself changed my life or made me a better, happier person. Although, if you like thrillers with amazing plot twists, you’ve got to read this book. It’s enthralling in a heart pounding kind of way.
This psychological thriller made my list because my husband and I listened to it together over the course of six months on our road trips, mainly from Blacksburg to Richmond (where my parents live—hi mom, love you!).
We connected over this book, talking about it, guessing what was going to happen and downright enjoying it. One of the trips we listened to this book on was a two and a half hour trip to UVA to meet with a specialist who ended up changing my life by caring about my health and coming up with a treatment plan. My husband and I were both anxious on this trip, having seen multiple world-class specialists at the best hospitals in the United States. We both lost ourselves in this story to make the ride easier. This book and that trip will always be tied together in my mind.
That’s it…my list of books that have impacted my life more than any others and I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands.
Well, that’s sort of it. I tried my best to think of all the stories that should be on this list but I’m sure I’ve left off a couple by accident.
This is NOT my list of my favorite novels of all time. That list would include many of these books but it would look very different with additions like A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. (If you’d like to see what else would be on this list, let me know and I’ll plan another blog post all about my favorite novels.)
I would love to know what novel or two or seventeen that have changed your life in some way. Share them in the comments, please!